Name That App: Waze

*As published at DIGIDAY:DAILY** Publisher: Waze Inc. Price: Free Platform: iOS and BlackBerry (beta) Advertising: None Functionality: C+ Fun Factor: B- Overall: B- Waze is trying to build a business on mobile where others like Dash Navigation have failed in the standalone GPS device realm. The turn-by-turn GPS navigation system boasts a crowd-sourced approach to traffic and other important information for commuters that, ideally, would create a better and more comprehensive navigation offering.

Unfortunately, the results for the end user today are a far cry from fulfilling that objective. I’ve used Waze on a BlackBerry (in beta still) and on the iPhone, and like most apps, the finished product on the iPhone platform is leaps ahead. This review is completely built around my experiences with the Apple iOS app. I used Waze recently on a drive from Long Beach, Calif. to the Century City neighborhood of Los Angeles. It’s worth noting that while Waze has many shortcomings, plenty of similar offerings like Google Maps for example, suffer from many of the same problems. I’ll never forget when I was driving to Yosemite National Park a few years ago and Google Maps directed me to take a dirt road at one point that surely would have led to a minor disaster if I hadn’t realized how wrong the GPS had been early into the adventure. Things got off to a wrong start right away when Waze directed me to make two completely wrong turns at the beginning of my trip. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), there are no dirt roads to speak of on the route I tested Waze on. Since I’m very familiar with the route I needed to take, I wasn’t led astray by these false directions – but then, what’s the point of a navigation app if it might lead you astray? Waze takes a unique approach to traffic, but it fails to deliver anything close to what it’s after. Because it’s a crowd-sourced offering, the information that Waze transmits to users is only as good as the info it gathers from other users. The initial estimated-time arrival for my trip was 41 minutes, but it ended up taking a full 85 minutes before I arrived at my destination. (No surprise there though, as anyone who drives in LA knows it’s near impossible to drive anywhere in less than an hour during peak commute hours). In that 85-minute span, Waze consumed 35 percent of the battery life on my iPhone. I had no other applications running while testing the app. The automated turn-by-turn directions, a welcome feature on any mapping-slash-navigation app, were also less than what I’d hoped for. The voice directions were too vague to be considerable valuable for any drive where the driver actually relied on the turn-by-turn directions. Throughout my test, the only directions I heard were “stay right” or “turn” this way or that. Not once was a street name or highway announced. Waze was always right on target with my current driving speed throughout the trip, and I found that to be one of the most impressive features, but of course, it’s not telling drivers anything they don’t already know in this regard. In typical modern app fashion, Waze gives users the ability to integrate their driving fun with Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare. It also boasts what it calls “fun geo-games,” but I didn’t cross over any of these virtual games during my trip, so I can’t speak to that experience. Because Waze fails to deliver on many of the key features any driver would expect from a navigation app, I probably won’t be recommending this app to friends or family anytime soon. But I do hope that Waze continues to grow and builds a user base that’s large enough to make the experience closer to what the developers intend to deliver.

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